Belize is partly located on the vast Mesoamerican barrier reef system (the second biggest barrier reef in the world, after Australia’s, and the biggest in the northern hemisphere), which runs along 600 miles (1000km) of the coastline of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.

This barrier reef, which Charles Darwin described as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies”, has been listed since 1996 as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the variety of its ecosystems (atolls, hundreds of cases, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons, and estuaries) and its biodiversity.

It is estimated that 36 species of soft coral, 70 species of hard coral, and nearly 500 species of fish inhabit Belize’s barrier reef. It is common to see sharks, rays, turtles, or West Indian manatees.

Snorkeling in Ambergris Caye - San Pedro, Belize
Some of the best snorkel spots in the country can be found in the coral reef stretching between San Pedro and Ambergris Caye (left: snorkeler in Hol Chan Cut, right: nurse shark in Shark Ray Alley).

The continental coasts of Belize, edged with tropical forests and mangroves, are not suited to snorkeling. You need to take a boat (or a plane) to the barrier reef, a few miles off the coast.

The most accessible and popular area is Ambergris Caye (and its main town, San Pedro) and Caye Caulker, from where you can explore the wonderful snorkeling spot of Hol Chan Cut and the very famous Shark Ray Alley.

The variety of snorkeling destinations, the clarity of the water, and the accessibility of the islands mean that there is something for snorkelers of all levels.

If it’s an adventure you are after, the more distant atolls of Lighthouse Reef (which includes the Blue Hole National Monument), Turneffe Islands, or Glovers Reef are exceptional spots, providing you have a big budget and you don’t mind spending several hours sailing in the open sea.

Snorkeling the Blue Hole of Belize
The Great Blue Hole (left) is the most emblematic spot of Belize. In Caye Caulker’s Split (right), one can explore the edge of the mangrove swamp, where the checkered puffer can notably be spotted.

When to go snorkeling Belize?

You can go snorkeling all through the year in Belize since the climate is tropical and so constantly hot and humid. The rainy season, from June to November, can make outings tricky and reduce the clearness of the water.

This is the hottest period (over 86°F/30°C). It is also the season when hurricanes may hit the Belize coasts. In the dry season, and particularly in December and January, the temperature rarely goes above 80°F/26°C during the day and falls to less than 68°F/20°C at night.

The water temperature is relatively constant, around 82°F/28°C, with variations between the coldest months (December-January) and the hottest (July-August). All through the year, the wind can come up for several days at a time and prevent boats from sailing.

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